Detroit Public Television is saddened to hear of Cliff Russell’s passing last Sunday at age 61.
Russell regularly hosted “Detroit Black Journal,” now “American Black Journal” on DPTV in the early 1990s, talking politics, civil rights, business, housing, sports and the state of journalism as it related to African-Americans at the time.
“Cliff was the consummate professional and one of the nicest people in the communications business,” DPTV producer Daphne Hughes said, “Cliff quietly left his mark in Black history as Detroit’s first Black mayoral press secretary and first Black senior communications director of a Major League baseball team. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
Dan Alpert, DPTV’s Senior Vice President of Philanthropy, recalls Russell’s time with the station.
“Cliff’s work with ‘American Black Journal’ and even before that volunteering for the Channel 56 Auction wove him into the fabric of Detroit Public TV through the years,” Alpert said. “Equal parts journalist and gentleman, he upheld the standard of trust and civil discourse our viewers count on.”
Late last month, we had the chance to talk to Russell for a segment about African Americans in the Detroit media as part of our American Black Journal Roadshow – African American: Telling our story.
Russell made time for us during a break on 910AM Superstation radio show, which he was hosting at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
We asked if there are enough African Americans working in Detroit’s news operations.
“There’s never been enough,” he said. “We’ve never achieved enough – African Americans and people of color and diversity in the media.
“I’m afraid it has fallen behind. There was a period in my career when a premium had been placed on getting color into newsrooms, getting diversity into newsrooms.”
Russell said he was excited about his work at 910AM. He said the station has given the African American community an outlet it’s always needed.
Russell’s brother Greg, also a Detroit media presence for decades now reporting on the movies, remembers Cliff constantly shooting hoops in their backyard, but taking an interest in journalism as a sports star in high school, after becoming a subject of interviews.
“That intrigued him,” Greg said, adding that sports helped his brother get through Wayne State University.
About hosting “Detroit Black Journal,” Greg said, “He loved that show and loved working with Tony.” Tony Mottley was the program’s producer at the time.
Fred Murray, floor director of “American Black Journal” worked with Cliff in the studio. With the news of Russell’s death, Murray said, “That hurt me.” Murray knew Russell back in the 1970s, playing playground basketball in Detroit’s Conant Gardens neighborhood. “Ultimate professional,” Murray said. “He was one of the few cats that could do it all, covering light stories or heavy stories.”
Last month with DPTV, Cliff said, “I think the big problem in the African-American community is that me and my brothers and my friends and other Black guys, we’ve had conversations with each other for years. But the content of our conversations has rarely gotten out to the public discourse. I think you’re seeing a lot more of that now.”
Russell mentioned his concerns for the future of journalism. “I’m not sure young people are taking the time to learn from us old folks and find out the history and the experience and the some of the nuances of the business,” he said. “I’m a big fan of getting around to my elders and just talking and asking questions. That gets you some of the most valuable insights we can get.”